Music blaring from the Trail Smoke Eaters’ dressing room following a dramatic 3-2 overtime win against Salmon Arm Saturday night was a loud indication that Smokie coach and GM Nick Deschenes has the team back on track.
The Smoke Eaters counted all four points on the weekend with a 3-2 win over the Nanaimo Clippers Friday, and the OT victory over Interior-division rival SilverBacks Saturday night at the Cominco Arena, bringing the incumbent head coach’s record to 3-2-1 since taking over last month.
“I’m really happy for these guys,” said Deschenes. “We do all our work in the middle of the week and they perform on the weekends so it’s a well-deserved four-point weekend against two good teams. It just seemed like everyone really stepped up their games, and were playing hard for each other, and the results speak for themselves.”
Defenceman Cody Bardock netted his second game-winning goal in as many nights on the power play with just under a minute into the second overtime period.
BCHL leading scorer Landon Smith was sent off for interference for hauling down Jake Kauppila in the offensive zone at the 4:53 mark of the first overtim. The ensuing 4-on-3 power play carried over into the second extra frame where Bardock took a cross-ice pass from Braden Pears and wired a blast from the left face-off dot over the shoulder of SilverBack goalie Angus Redmond to send the Smokie crowd into delirium. It was the Lethbridge native’s third goal in the last four games.
“I just threw it on net, we were told to switch after the faceoff, so I just threw it on net and it ended up going in,” said Bardock.
Both teams had chances to break a 2-2 second period deadlock late in the third with Redmond making big pad saves off of Valik Chichkin and Adam Wheeldon, and Trail goalie Dustin Nikkel replying by robbing Evan Anderson on the doorstep with a great glove save. Bardock too almost ended it in the last minute of regulation, rifling a bullet from the blue line that ricochetted off the crossbar and into the stands.
“I had to make it up after that one. Everyone was bugging me on the bench,” added Bardock who has been a solid addition on the back end since coming to the team from the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Sherwood Park Crusaders last month. The six-foot-five defenceman netted just one goal in 12 games for the Crusaders, but has already pitched in with four goals in 10 matches for the Smokies.
“I’ll take it I guess, it’s not my game but apparently lately it is, it’s been a good treat.”
The Smokies held the lead all weekend as Pears put the orange and black on the board first with a power-play goal at 4:53.
The high-scoring Backs’ trio of Smith, Alex Gillies, and Anderson would combine to tie it 1-1 90 second later. But Scott Davidson would put the Smokies up 2-1 by banging in a Joel Webb rebound through the legs of Redmond at 16:17 of the opening frame.
Smith would notch his second of the game and 20th of the season to tie it at 13:34 of the second period after a perfect cross-crease dish from Gillies left him with a tap in.
The goalies shut the door from then on with Nikkel making several big saves and stopping 39 shots, including 15 in the third and seven in OT, while Redmond blocked 38 on the night.
Deschenes was happy with the solid defensive effort and even more so with the “D” stepping up in the offensive zone as well.
“I don’t look at shot totals so much as our offensive zone pressure and scoring chances,” said Deschenes. “But we’re executing in the offensive zone and playing a little bit better structure so it’s giving us more offensive opportunities. It’s a by-product when our defencemen shoot the puck, and if we can have that happen we’ll have success.”
The tension reached its crescendo when Trail was called for too-many-men at 1:55 of the first OT. The ‘Backs pressured, but timely saves from Nikkel and great work from the Smoke Eater penalty killers, including a spectacular play by Jesse Knowler in the waning seconds of the PK, lunging in desperation to break up a dangerous 2-on-1, preserved the victory.
In Friday’s game versus the Clippers, Bardock netted the winner at 8:19 of the third period to give the Smokies a 3-1 lead.
Smoke Eater AP Connor Gross scored his first goal in his first match as a Smokie to open the scoring at 14:56 of the first. Gross and Jackson Purvis of coach Deschenes’ former team, the Grand Forks Border Bruins, suited up for the game as APs.
Jake Kauppila made it 2-0 before the Clippers Bo Brauer cut the lead to one at 13:25 of the second period. After Bardock’s goal made it 3-1, Austin Dick would round out the scoring for the Clippers.
Bardock and Kauppila each had a goal and an assist, and Knowler added two helpers for the Smokies.
While Trail has a lot of ground to make up in the tough Interior division, the two character wins are a great start as the team progresses and responds to coach Deschenes and his systems.
“He (Deschenes) has been great,” says Bardock. “He’s been teaching us everything, and he’s very thorough so it’s all good.”
The Smokies next home game goes Friday versus the Vernon Vipers at 7:30 p.m. The game will be preceded by a KidSport tailgate party at the Trail Memorial Centre parking lot under the mural at 5 p.m. with Local 480, the United Way, and very special guests. See Wednesday’s Times for more info.